This all happened 18 years ago today (15th January 1998) and given the significance of this day, I thought it worthwhile posting…
BEST AND WORST
I’m not sure many people can state that the best and worst day of their lives happened at the same time, but January 15th 1998 definitely ticks both boxes for me. Like most days, it started by being yanked from sleep by the abrupt and completely unnatural beep of the alarm. Like most days, it continued with a desperate scramble for the snooze button before wearily pulling my bones out of the warm and snuggly duvet and out into the cold world of our bedroom on a bright January morning.
After the usual ablutions, a quick breakfast was taken before kissing my pregnant wife goodbye and getting into the car. It had been a frosty night and with my old Ford Granada neither having a heated windscreen nor a well performing thermostat, I enjoyed five minutes shivering inside a bright white world whilst the engine warmed up and pushed much needed hot air around to defrost the view onto the morning. Being the lazy sort of guy, I prefer shivering to the ritual of spraying de-icer onto the screen or using a credit card to scrape the night’s frost away. Up to temperature and with the ability to see the road ahead, the old girl got placed into ‘Drive’ and away we went.
In keeping with how routine the day was, the local commercial radio station spewed its usual nonsense through the stereo. Someone had obviously decided that the best content for the morning commute is to listen to the same five songs over and over, interspersed with the jolly traffic person rambling on about how many queues you had to look forward to. Mind you, if this was the sole basis of morning commercial radio it wouldn’t be so bad but alas every five minutes the preserve of failed composers and songwriters reared its ugly head with the local radio ads. It shows how bad you are if in your creative life you are resorting to rhyming ‘bed’ and ‘shed’ for a local DIY store; but at least the last ten seconds writes itself – the singing of the phone number. Twice.
This was a time before iTunes, Spotify and other marvellous musical magic and we were pretty much stuck with what was thrown at us through the radio. How we coped listening to such drivel still astounds but it made me realise that my job was a lot cooler than many others in media and entertainment – I was a Producer at Sony; the games division.
I walked into the large glass building after parking and said my usual hello to Bill the security guard. Now I’m not entirely sure how much security Bill provided; he was a lovely chap but spent most of his time spreading the company gossip around and having earned his free bus pass at least a decade earlier, he neither provided a visual deterrent nor seemingly had the ability to chase anyone. Entering our studio I was again the first person in so made the usual gallon of tea in my oversized Sports Direct mug and sat down to read through email and open the newspaper.
It was a routine morning for the team and myself containing the usual arguments between the creatives and the engineers. During a self-appraisal I described the job (and still do for that matter) as herding cats, and that day I was on top form in convincing both feline sides to point in the right direction.
And then the phone rang.
Nothing really new in this. My phone rang a fair bit usually passing on a message asking if I was heading outside for a cigarette. Whilst I was needing a nicotine fix, this time it was Sarah my wife who whilst she did tend to call regularly, she never really called me whilst upset.
‘Lol, you really need to come home’, I heard as her voice wavered. ‘There is something wrong. I’m at Fazakerley Hospital and they are saying something is wrong. I don’t understand them and your mum is on her way down. Can you come home?’, she replied when I asked her what was the matter.
There was something in her voice that I hadn’t become familiar with during our 3 years together which made me a little worried. After speaking to my manager (a rather useless chap who was new to the role and had spent his first month solely asking everyone which company car he should choose) who told me in no uncertain terms to get home, I jumped back in the car and managed to get to the hospital without scoring any points on my license.
Fortunately, Fazakerley Hospital had a sensible parking policy which didn’t involve having to run outside every 30 minutes to put another tenner in the meter, so I was inside pretty quickly and wandering around trying to find the signs for Maternity. After reaching the exit of the maze marked Maternity, I was informed by a rather brusque nurse that Obstetrics was where I needed to be and of course, due to the sadistic pleasures of hospital architects and planners, Obstetrics was in another building.
Eventually I conquered the hospital maze and found Sarah lying in a bed on a small ward along with my mum. I remember her scared face, her normally slightly pink cheeks were pale and her eyes red from crying. To be honest, as soon as I saw her I feared the worst and I felt my stomach plummet. My mum who must have read the thoughts on my face, quickly told me that the routine check had shown an issue and a scan had confirmed that our little baby who still had two more months to slowly bake in the maternal oven, had stopped growing. Before I had a chance to absorb this information and clench Sarah’s hand, a Doctor walked in. I’m pretty sure I did a comedy double-take as the chap was the doppelganger of Jim Dale who played the hapless Doctor in numerous Carry On films. He started talking but all I could see was this chap rolling down some stairs whilst lying on a trolley! Once my brain decided to reconnect with reality I caught what he was saying.
‘…so given baby seems very small for seven months, we are going to transfer Sarah to the Women’s Hospital where they can provide more specialist care for both.’
It is hard to explain how I felt at that point. As the period silently emerged from Dr Jim’s mouth at the end of that sentence, I knew everything had suddenly become very real. It wasn’t just our little bump that was in trouble, it was Sarah as well. Now we had only been together for three years and on our first date she jumped in a taxi with a guy that wasn’t me, but we were in love enough to move out of our parents for the first time, buy a house together and get pregnant within days of moving into our tiny shoebox. And now she was seriously ill. I didn’t actually find out until much later in the day that she had Lupus and it was likely the root cause of all the issues.
Within five minutes a porter had arrived and told us that he was taking Sarah to a waiting ambulance to take the ten mile journey along to the Women’s Hospital in the centre of town. I followed as best I could but even though the lights and siren weren’t on, other vehicles moved out of the way; a courtesy that wasn’t extended to the guy trying to follow in the old Ford Granada.
The Women’s Hospital was pretty new back in 1998 and was a properly designed hospital. Parking was easy and Obstetrics was just one floor from Maternity – unfortunately, this time Sarah had been taken to Maternity whereas I was looking for her in Obstetrics! I chuckled when I realised which looking back was a bit strange given the situation, although on further reflection when things have gone wrong in life I have tended to laugh rather than cry. Anyway, there she was in Obstetrics surrounded by lots of people in white coats and scrubs before the curtain went around her bed and I was shoved away. It seemed an age to be waiting without knowing anything and I started to get angry that I had been disconnected from the whole situation so efficiently (something that would reoccur during Sarah’s depression when an unpleasant female nurse automatically assumed I was the cause through abuse, but that chapter is not for now!)
‘Mr Scragg?’. I looked up, having been pulled away from my doom laden thoughts. The doctor had a marvellously confidence-inspiring cut glass English accent and cufflinks that looked like they were more valuable than our house. I nodded and attempted a smile as it was explained that they wanted to carry out an emergency caesarian but due to Bump’s small size, they needed to try stimulate the lungs with steroids which would take a few hours to take effect. I sat next to Sarah, took her hand in mine and we waited.
We waited for four hours with nobody telling us what was going on before something happened. We now have a good idea what a proper SWAT raid feels like for the recipients. Quiet, quiet, quiet, quiet. BOOM! The doors flew open and a blur of white and green raced through the door, surrounded us and within three seconds had Sarah wheeled out of the ward and down a corridor at Senna like speeds. I tried to keep up and was told that there was a theatre free and that time was of the essence. Suddenly an arm in front of me stretched across the corridor, nearly clothes-lining me with the message that I was to wait ‘…in there.’
I sat and watched the door close millimetre by millimetre. It really was the slowest closing door in the world and with a quick look around I realised that it guarded the entrance to the smallest and dullest waiting area ever. Although maybe dull is the wrong word to be honest, it was dull in a ‘nothing inside to do whilst waiting’ sort of way rather than a lack-of-colour way. Given how bright the white walls were, every delegate of the Rainbow Colour Conference was obviously present during the application. However apart from the white walls the room was empty bar two plastic seats seated opposite each other. Before my eyes had become accustomed to the brightness, the door opened again and Sarah was wheeled in on her bed.
Apparently she had been ‘prepped’ and would go into theatre shortly. She also mentioned that she would be under a general anaesthetic rather than a local so I wouldn’t be allowed in. More waiting followed as we both withdrew into our own thoughts; mine full of terror at the thought of possibly losing both my fiancée and my child – hers, well we have never really talked about it. Cutting through the silence was the feeling that everything was about to change.
Just as the door eventually closed from Sarah’s return, it reopened for the white and green blur of medical staff who wheeled Sarah out and into theatre. We held hands as long as possible before the two most loved things in my world disappeared between the double doors and all I could think about was whether I would see them again. A pretty blonde nurse took my arm and walked me up to another waiting room where I found both Sarah’s and my parents waiting. After bringing them up to speed on what was going on, my talent for waiting was tested again. It was disquieting as all five of us withdrew into our own thoughts and each and every noise outside was greeted with a straining of necks to see if it was news heading our way.
Time just ground to a halt until a commotion in the corridor led to us all seeing an incubator being rushed past before I was summoned outside. The emotional roller-coaster of that day has detuned my memory to the exact words spoken, but I recall being told I had a daughter who was extremely sick and that it would be a good idea if I were to see her now. I read between the lines and disliked the words so my mind decided to ignore them as I was guided down to the special care baby unit.
The room was small with six incubators inside, each of them surrounded by a setup of monitors that even with my level of geekdom, I would have been proud of. There she was. Bump, who had now become my daughter. My tiny daughter. Being born at seven months she was no bigger than my hand and looked lost in the large incubator. Tubes were running from all parts of her body to places I couldn’t see, but it was her skin that surprised me most – she was translucent. I had never understood why everyone said that babies were beautiful and had held my tongue on some occasions when presented with what was obviously an ugly specimen of human new-born, but I now understood why all parents feel their baby is amazing. Here was a bundle of see-through skin no bigger than my hand with dark hair all over her but she was my daughter. She may well have appeared in a Giger sketchbook but in my eyes she was beautiful – and she may die.
I looked at the doctor again and he must have read my confusion.
‘She is incredibly small and very sick. You should prepare yourself that she may not last the night…’ Those words were like being kicked over and over in the groin. I nodded my head in some semblance of understanding and looked at her. It was only now I remembered Sarah; she was okay and in recovery. The next hour is a bit of a blur as my brain must have been concentrating more on other issues than firing the correct synapses for memory retention, but at some point I headed back to let the parents know the news before sitting next to Sarah and waiting for her to wake.
Eventually I was told to go home. It was around one in the morning by now and I had neither eaten nor smoked in twelve hours. Sarah was still groggy from the anaesthetic and I wasn’t allowed to wait at the side of my daughter so it made sense to head home and get some sleep. I dropped my in-laws off in silence before heading back to our dark and very empty home. My thoughts were like trainers in a washing machine, tumbling around and banging off the sides as I tried to collate some sense into events. For some reason, I didn’t cry. I couldn’t cry. My daughter was likely to die at any time and yet my internal upset wasn’t translating into tears – I didn’t realise at the time but this trait would follow me around and give the impression I was a cold hearted ogre, but the tears just didn’t come. Instead I sat in the dark with a packet of cigarettes and my thoughts ricocheting off each other.
The last thing I recall on the best and worst day of my life was four chimes from the clock before I must have fallen asleep.
As I sit here recounting the events, I can look through from my untidy office towards the living room where a beautiful, kind and intelligent seventeen year old woman is sitting. Unfortunately the Registrar wouldn’t allow us to use the name Bump, therefore she ended up as Megan.